Farmer markets’ popularity brings food safety concerns to the table


Farmers markets have increasingly become a popular choice for fresh produce among consumers throughout the state. On any given weekend morning, visitors to a farmers market can indulge in samples of green beans and take part in cooking demonstrations.

But market operators are concerned that Minnesota laws governing food safety haven’t kept pace with the farmer’s market boom. The Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association for the last year has worked with state officials to craft legislation that spells out the health regulations for handing out food samples and doing cooking demonstrations. The result of their negotiations is HF2178, sponsored by Rep. Bob Barrett (R-Lindstrom), which was approved Wednesday by the House Agriculture Policy Committee and referred to the House Floor.

The bill, as amended, would define a farmers market as an association of three or more people who sell their farm- or garden-grown wares in public venues.

When asked by a regulatory authority, the bill directs people to provide information such as the source of the food or the equipment used in its preparation.

Cecelia Coulter, founder and market manager of the Chisago City Farmers Market, said current laws don’t specify how cooking demonstrations and food samples should be handled at these markets. “This bill is significantly important,” she said, “as it will enable all Minnesota farmers markets, including those in outstate Minnesota, to conduct food sampling and cooking demonstrations without the regulatory hurdles that current policies require but while closely following the existing food code to insure food safety for our public.”

Linda Prail, food code coordinator for the Department of Health, said the bill doesn’t raise any health concerns.

“From the Department of Health’s perspective, there is nothing in this bill that would change for the worse the food safety provisions that we have in statute and rule,” Prail said. “We are keeping the same level of food safety protection that we have in Minnesota, which is quite high.”

As amended, the bill would give local governments the ability to pass an ordinance creating its own definition of a farmers market.

Daniel Huff, manager of environmental management and safety for the City of Minneapolis, said there are “food deserts” in Minneapolis where fresh produce is difficult to find. The ability to create local definitions would allow farmers markets in places where there might be fewer than three people in the farmers market association.

A companion, SF2060, sponsored by Sen. Tony Lourey (DFL-Kerrick), awaits a hearing by the Senate Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Committee.